Friday, September 26, 2008

It's Our Park

Just in case you wanted something fun to do in Astoria with the whole family--- our community garden, Two Coves Community Garden, is sponsoring an "It's My Park Day" on October 25th from 12-4. The Astoria CSA is co-sponsoring it.....there should be some pumpkins, face painting, and a nice chance to hang out in the garden with other folks.

Socrates Sculpture Park is having their Halloween Festival on October 18th from 12-3 (I think that's the time I saw posted on another site, but I couldn't find it on their site). Seriously, it is a FANTASTIC party! A dog costume contest, music, and materials for the arts brings materials to make costumes!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wishing and Hoping......

I watched the Democratic National Convention, with not quite rapt attention. I've been afraid of getting too hopeful. Kept my head down and listened, cautiously.

Will my heart be broken, again? Will Barack Obama do what the rest of the democrats have not been able to do? Secure the presidency?

I'm not a political junky-- though I enjoy listening to a good debate. I only really researched Obama's platform vs. Hillary's and McCain's when I started working on it with my students. That's when I started thinking seriously about Obama. His platform was almost identical to Hillary's- very sound and almost everything that I believe in. And when it looked like it was all over for Hillary, I thought-- I'm not that unhappy. He's a great candidate-- most of his ideas for fixing the economy, the war, education, etc-- issues that I care about-- are ideas that I agree with and like.

Months ago, a friend sent me a slanderous email about Obama. I immediately smelled a rat and checked the snopes website. Sure enough, it was garbage. I never normally do this,since I rarely really care about those stupid forwards that I get from people, but I emailed my friend and told her how upset I was that she was emailing lies to people. I said that I bet that she was too smart to believe crap like that, but there are other people who believe everything that they read. She was offended and said that she would never send political emails out again because she offended all of her liberal friends.

I am liberal (if you compare me to a right wing republican), but I would hardly call that a "political email"-- it was hatefully worded garbage meant to encourage people to believe lies about Obama.

Thankfully, he now has a website to address the slander:

I don't mean to belittle the fact that this does not happen on "the other side". There were a lot of hateful rumors planted about McCain when he ran against George Bush in 2004. Thanks to Karl Rove.

And in the past few months, there have been less attacks against Obama. I think that people finally woke up and looked into these rumors and realized that it was trash and insulting their intelligence. I just hope that it stays this way.

I will be wishing and hoping that Obama will make it. Theoretically, he should be able to beat McCain. Obama has the backing of the democratic party, the backing of people who want a change from the past 8 years, a great platform, sound ideas, and a great campaign team.

Wishing for a clean campaign. May the best candidate win! Go Obama!

Hoping that I'll be crying tears of joy this November!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

So Uncool.....

Me. Not that I was EVER cool, to begin with, but now I have slipped even farther down the cool slide, down to luke-warm. Tonight, I heard my neighbors hanging out -- a little party with some friends, and thought that it was the tv. Though we've had some friends over to bbq, I guess that it's been awhile since I've done been anywhere or done anything social that happens after sunset.

And, of course, that's not how I should judge how COOL I am, or anyone else is, but I realize that it's been awhile.

I was supposed to go to a rock show this week-- my babysitter is unable to watch my kids. I probably could not have stayed up that late, anyhow.

I'm glad that OTHER people are having a good time outdoors, socializing, etc after the sun has set, and perhaps can live vicariously through them in the meantime.

Until then, I will hope that Astoria gets some more rock shows that happen in the am-- at parks and such-- for me to go to while awake. Brooklyn has them, Manhattan has them, so we should get them too! Or, I will have to learn guitar and make my own band.

Is the opposite of cool, hot?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Summer in the city

It's almost summer, in the city, but it feels like it's already started. As I type, it's amazingly hot and humid, and there is no airconditioning or fan or moving air in this room.

We went to our community garden meeting today. We, meaning myself and M and N of the Meetup Astoria Moms group (or ASAHM Meetup group, as we are also known). Wow, meetings like that are pretty exhausting! Not a whole lot felt like it was being accomplished (though most of the agenda was covered), but it was very eye-opening for us all, and we got to see and hear from quite a few of the other gardeners.

Have we blogged about our awesome garden? We joined the Two Coves Community Garden. Because we are a community group, we were allowed to get a bunch of plots next to each other to use to form a big garden. Well, big if you live in the city and are used to gardening on a balcony, or a window-box. We have about 600 square feet, and we have made lots of little gardens within the space: a butterfly garden, an herb area, vegetable gardens with lots of different veggies growing like tomatoes, squash, corn, beans, lettuce, radishes, carrots, pumpkins, and cucumbers, and flowers, flowers, flowers. There's also a nice spot for the kids to dig in and make mud puddles, and they love this most of all!

The kids absolutely love the garden. It's even more fantastic than I thought it would be....and I had high expectations for it.

Yes, it was very hard to prepare the garden with kids all over the place, and it's been equally hard to plant, and now it's sometimes really hard to find time for weeding, but we're getting it done! Slowly....

Another obstacle has been that our kids are little, and active, and it's taken time for us to make sure that our kids understand the rules of being in a community garden (not stepping on other people's plots, knowing where their garden ends and another begins, common areas versus private areas in the garden, weeds versus plants....) and there has apparently been some backlash against our group.

We immediately tried to address it--- with each other, to make sure that some moms are on "kid duty" while others are gardening, and to make sure that all moms are encouraged to get some garden time in if they want--- with our kids, to make sure that they understand that there are not only expectations of their being able to behave by their parents, but also by people in the garden community (they understood that they would not be allowed to go to the garden if they didn't follow the rules!), with the garden leaders.

With gardeners that we met, we tried to address it also-- that we knew that it might be a problem and that we were addressing it. Oddly, all gardeners that we met were extremely kind to us and our children. However, we were told that there were numerous complaints! I guess that we will see....

All I know is that we love this place, our garden, and it is the perfect place to spend the summer in the city. We water our garden with water from the fire hydrant, we garden next to people in our Astoria community, we get to be with our friends, and we get to do it in Astoria! Who knew that we could have our own slice of natural heaven, and get to share it with so many people in our community! It really does feel good, and feels right to allow our kids a lot of time outdoors, and time well-spent with friends.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

This Land is Your Land

Today while driving my son to preschool, I had a weepy moment and I thought I’d write about it.
As a footnote- I looked up the definition to the Spanish word patria. It means “fatherland.” Different versions for the song "This Land is Your Land" can be found on Itunes and the the lyrics can be found here:
In order to write the following I listened to the song over and over as I wrote it.
Claire, Gabriel's bday party favor- music cd compilation is to thank for this moment.

This Land is Your Land

Today was the first time my child listened to and enjoyed “This Land is Your Land.” You know it? That folky song that heralds all that is wonderful about this country. My son immediately enjoyed its catchy tune and tried hard to sing along- a difficult task for a three year old.
Then the questions began, “Mami what’s land?”
Mami says, “It means tierra.”
I look in the rear view mirror and see the confused look on his face still there.
I remember tierra in Spanish also means dirt.
I add, “Samuel tierra doesn’t just mean dirt it also means…”

I start to listen to the words. The tears begin. I’m not premenstrual, I’m not pregnant, I’m not that patriotic but I can’t contain the tears.
I wipe the tears and add, “Samuel tierra refers to a place.”

But that’s not all it means. I think this song refers to patria. How do I explain and translate patria to Samuel- why is that word only in Spanish to me? Does that word with its true meaning exist to me in English?

I was born in Peru. I left Peru at the age of 4, only one year older than my son. I grew up in Canada and mostly the US. I am a US citizen, but if you ask me where I’m from, I think and feel Peru. If I go to Peru- the Peruvians recognize and identify me for the American that I am. Now as I see my 3 year old sing along to “This Land is Your Land,” I wonder if this song was ever really intended for me? The song tells me “this land was made for you and me.” Part of me wants to think so, needs to believe so. After all I grew up mostly in New Jersey- yeah that’s kinda described in the song. I love hot dogs, I love apple pie. I love to do just as I damn well please- because I freakin’ have rights- isn’t that all so all about “this land?” That’s not all of me, though. I also ache for anticuchos, a pervuian dish made from cow heart meat, chicha morada’ a purple drink made from purple corn grown in the Andes, Afro-Peruvian music, and a gray city filled with pollution and poverty called Callao. I swear, laugh, and make love best in Spanish. I argue, empathize, and think best in English. When I think of this country as my land it feels natural and yet it feels like I am betraying something that is such an integral part of me. I realize my son will never have this internal division. Is this assimilation?

I think how to describe “land” to my son. What is land? It is that place that brings you peace and happiness, that is home to all your success, and home to all the trials that bring your success. It is this place that allows success. It is the place you send off your children to die for in wars. It’s the place you meet your husband. It’s the place you find love. It’s the place you see your children grow up.
“Samuel, tierra means the place where you were born….[pause] or the place you call your home. This song describes the United States. It’s all the places your family lives, your abuelos in Florida, your grandparents in Pennsylvania, your tia in Oregon, your aunt in New Jersey, Daddy’s work in Washington DC, your home in New York.“

Confused face gone.
Song is over.
Mami play it again”

Monday, March 10, 2008

Schools in Astoria

A bunch of moms met at my place a few weeks ago to discuss schools in Astoria. Some of the moms knew quite a bit, and others hadn't really researched too much. All of us were wary and concerned about the prospect of sending our kids to NYC public schools, or were concerned about "school" in general.

Concerned, and yet I am a teacher- and I teach for the Department of Education (formerly the Board of Education) in NYC! However, I'm a speech teacher for district 75 - the special education district. Which most of the parents in our group (hardly any at all) will ever have to contemplate special education. And district 75 and special education needs a post of its own!

Some parents are interested in home-schooling, or supplementing the children's public school experiences with some home-schooling on the side. Some are interested in using the charter schools in the area. Others are interested in using their neighborhood schools, with the hopes that their children will be kids for the whom the "teaching to the test" most of the year teaching protocols that are now unfortunately nearly standard in every NYC public school will be a good fit. And then others, like me, hope that not only are my kids able to handle the fast pace and test oriented curriculum, but that their neighborhood school gets much, much better.

After I moved into this house, I found out which school that we were zoned for. I had thought that the school that seemed closest would be "our school," but the zones had changed and we are supposed to use a different school- a school that feels like a much farther walk and is unfortunately not as good. We would be zoned for the school that I want my kids to go to if I lived directly behind my house. My neighbors, who grew up on this street, attended the school that is better because the zones were different 20 years ago. But, I live here now and will have to use the school that is now apparently on the "No Child Left Behind" list.

Can't say that I'm happy about it, but I am torn about what to do. Do I try to make the school better? Do I send my kids there and hope for the best? Or, do I get put on someone's con-ed bill near the better school and send my kids there? I hate lying, and I work for the DOE! I'm an employee! To lie about something like that seems so awful! BUT, I want what is best for my kids.

What I'd like to do is march down the district office and tell them the truth- that it is not acceptable to me that my neighborhood school has gotten WORSE since I have lived here (and I've lived in this house for 9 years), and that I'll be sending my kids to the better area school (and ask for a variance- which you apparently can only get after you register your child for the NCLB school first). Not that they haven't heard this before, and not that they can do anything about it. And I'm sure the teachers in my neighborhood school are upset about what has happened, and I'm sure that the principal is freaking out about it, but not as upset as I am!

I'm happy to work with my kids- do homework, take them to cultural experiences like museums and classes and music, bring them to museums, etc but I want them to get a good, basic education, too.

What's an Astoria parent to do?

Monday, February 4, 2008

An afternoon in Astoria (1940)

I was wondering if any of you long time residents of Astoria are familiar with this neighborhood, better, with the photos below. For more information and pictures click here.

Rudolph (Rudy) Burckhardt (1914-1999) arrived in New York from his native Switzerland in 1935. Although he settled in Manhattan – the perfect place in witch to escape the rigid propriety of his European upbringing – his affection for unconventional standards of charm often drew him to Queens. Through Burckhardt’s camera, Queens in the early 1940s was a place of unaffected beauty. He delighted in its empty gas stations and the chaos of its abandoned lots, and in its overgrown sidewalks and its stark industrial facades he found an uncelebrated grace that his own quiet temperament was particularly suited to recognize.
Burckhardt gathered the best of his photographs made in Queens and carefully sequenced them in an album he titled An afternoon in Astoria.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Moms Rising- Parents Rising- Astoria Style

Hey, moms (and dads), if you are interested in, we're starting up a chapter soon. If you're a member of the meetup ASAH mom group, then it's on the calendar. If not, then email me and I'll give you the info. And if you just want some information, you can email me or go to I think that it's a good thing for all people with families to get together to be heard- to help make sure that politicians know what is important to us. Some of the momsrising campaigns are really important to me and to other families in Astoria that I know- better daycare and childcare, affordable homes, better schools, after school care, equal pay for equal work, and flexible work hours that let us get work done both at our paying jobs and in our non-paying jobs!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

My fight.....My Inspiration....

I have wanted to post on the blog for months now, but it has been a struggle to articulate all the strong feelings and emotions that are harbored inside of me. I knew that if I write about my experiences and emotions it would serve three very important purposes. One would be personal in which I can simply "get out" all the feelings that I have been carrying on my shoulders. The second would be to let others know that if you are in my shoes too, you are not alone. Finally my purpose in writing is to grant people, if it only be a small amount, a glimpse of the reality of Autism from my perspective.

So hear I go. Michael was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) when he was 20 months old. He is now three years old. He has not actually been diagnosed with Autism. But, when explaining it to family, friends, etc. I say that he does have a mild form of Autism because many people do not understand what PDD is. At first I really could not truly acknowledge that Michael was on the spectrum as all of a sudden we were bombarded with all theses services for him through Early Intervention. At first I was in a fog as I now had to coordinate Speech, Occupational, Physical, and Special Instruction Therapies. But that is what I had to do and that kept me from having to truly acknowledge and accept this reality. Reflecting back, I then basically went in to a "fight mode". From my teaching experience I knew that special education services do not come without a fight, and I would fight for my son, because the same hopes and dreams I had for him did not all of a sudden become diminished because of this diagnosis.

Intrinsically, I am not a fighter. I have always been intimidated easily. But, as the first roadblocks came when having to transition from Early Intervention to CPSE (Commitee for Pre-School Special Education) and dealing with the NYC board of Education, I quickly transformed into the strong and determined advocate that I had no choice to be for my son. When phone calls were not returned I would call back relentlessly until I got someone on the phone that could help me, I would be demanding, and I would not accept anything less than what I thought Michael deserved. After fighting with the Board of Ed about evaluations, then visiting school, I was successful in my fight for my son. I got him into our first choice school. The one gift that Autism has granted me is that I am confident now that I can be a advocate, I can be a fighter.

So, at first I was in sort of a denial, then I focused all my energy on being my son's strong advocate, and now until the next battle (I guess) I find myself for the first time in a year and a half truly having to deal with this reality. I am accepting it now and I am letting myself feel the anger, frustration, sadness, and fear that has always been their. I love my son with all my heart and admire him for always rising up to challenges that life brings him that for other children are not so much of a challenge. I see how much he is progressing and how hard he works. I am marveled at how he can think of different ways to put his train tracks together as I observe his thinking process by taking pieces, looking at the shape, then looking at the structure, so that everything connects. I am so impressed by his great memory skills. He has memorized many of his favorite books! But, at the same time I have much anxiety about what the future holds for him. I see other children his age playing together and talking with each other about various things. Or simply asking each other to come and play or anticipating the arrival of a friend. That is a struggle for Michael. He has difficulty engaging is spontaneous open-ended conversations that come so naturally to most children and adults. I have cried to my husband many many times saying, "I just wish that Michael could play with other kids the right way"! Then I feel badly because I do not think any less of my son, I just so much want him to experience the fun and satisfaction that comes along with friendships. I am so proud of Michael and proud to be his Mother, but at the same time I am scared for him. Michael's teacher's like to say that Michael just learns differently. And yes, I do believe that and I have to accept that. My husband and I have had to accommodate and adapt our behaviors and outings to meet his needs and different ability in order for him to be successful. Some days we fail miserably and other days we relish in our success.

I read a story when I was in college, that having a child with a disability is like planning a trip to Italy, but instead you all of a sudden are sent to Holland. It is not that Holland is any less of a vacation then Italy, it is just different and not what you expected. I always keep this story in my head to help me to be strong when I am letting myself feel sorry for myself and angry that Autism has such a strong presence in our life. With all these strong emotions I have been experiencing for the last year and half, my love and devotion to my wonderful son will always surpass them in strength. Michael is an inspiration to me and I will always be thankful to him for giving me the strength to finally fight for what I believe in. I will never stop fighting and I will never give up hope.